The Modern App: How Technology Is Advancing Team-Centric Work
Evan Sinar, DDI, and Tiffany Poeppelman, LinkedIn
Over the recent years, influential industry analysts (e.g., Bersin, 2016; Haak, 2017) have repeatedly cited the shift to team-based work as a major business trend warranting a fundamentally reshaped approach to talent management and organizational structure. These disruptive forces are driving workflows that are less often hierarchical from a long-term supervisor and more often lateral among project-based teams, and processes that are less often serial and more often parallel using agile methodologies. Additional interest in workplace teams is also on the rise within major I-O publications such as the Journal of Applied Psychology (Mathieu, Hollenbeck, Knippenberg, & Ilgen, 2017). These trends piqued our interest in understanding the major trends across technologies that have shifted the way we work since our Modern App review of virtual working in Jan 2015, and to see what is top of mind in today’s practice and for today’s researchers.
In this edition of the Modern App, we focus on the possibilities—and realities—of the technologies that enable team-centered work. We being with an overview of the various technologies and tools that are rapidly gaining a foothold in the workplace, and we then shift to sections—taking a representative rather than a comprehensive view—of what the latest research within and outside our field tells us about the intersection of teams and technology for virtual teams, collaboration and team-building tool adoption, and the measurement of team dynamics, including a preview of relevant sessions at the upcoming SIOP 2018 Annual Conference in Chicago.
Team-Centric Workplace Tech: Reviewing Market Forces and Emerging Offerings
Borders are no longer barriers with the advances in modern technology. These tools allow employees to work from almost anywhere in the world and push the boundaries of virtual work, both well-aligned with the pressures of the global business environment. Due to these abundant application opportunities, there are no lack of collaboration technologies in the marketplace.
Executives in global corporations are investing in technologies to improve within- and cross-team workflows to boost business performance and ensure collaboration for in-person and virtual teams. Many technologies, platforms, and tools are ones that we’ve seen on the market for the last 3+ years, but their product functionality lists have only continued to lengthen as organizational demands drive deeper investment to meet the changing needs of the enterprise. These tools often fall into eight general categories, although the applications for cloud-based team/group-enablement software are increasing by the day:
1. Social platforms that allow for real time communication such as Chatter, Yammer, Jive, Teams, and Slack
2. Planning tools for team project task management such as Trello, Monday (formerly Dapulse), ProofHub, Smartsheet, and Asana
3. Organization of notes from group meetings such as Evernote and Notebook
4. Information repositories to access and store team materials such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Sharepoint
5. Videoconferencing for collaborators to meet real time or desk share materials such as Zoom, BlueJeans, and Skype
6. Building environments for product development or team coding environments such as Google Docs, Igloo, Github, and Codingteam
7. Group crowdsourcing and curation of content and ideas such as AnswerHub, Coggle.it, Pandexio, and Spigit
8. Text to speech capabilities that offer automatic and human transcription for audio and video files exchanged across teams like SpokenData and Amazon Transcribe
Other technologies that are already here are supporting the recording day-to-day work practices with the intent of coaching team members on their daily work practices. These include recording customer calls to provide the right investment in training on core skills such as sales or other support functions. Some examples of these manager-to-employee coaching tools include Monet Software, Join.me, WebEx, Brainshark, Gong.io, Ambition, and MindTickle.
Of course, why stop there when the analyses of the calls and recommendations are being requested, which is leading companies to use a combination of tools such as web meeting apps, like Zoom and Gotomeeting, together with software like ExecVision.io, and Chorus.ai to automatically record and transcribe calls, and then analyze them for insights.
The Technological Trends
Across these technologies and tools, we see four recurring themes.
First, mobile matters—that is, most collaborative and team-oriented technologies are investing in mobile access capabilities to ensure people can access these same services on the go.
Second, collaboration will continue to remain in the cloud—most technology tools for use within teams run on the cloud, often requiring steeper investments and larger storage requirements for companies.
Third, creative communications will be a key feature to access and share team resources being stored —many of these tools, and other newsletter features such as MailChimp and Sway, allow companies to consolidate messages or display information interactively to improve engagement and responsiveness.
Finally, data is being collected everywhere and is being leveraged in new creative ways to provide insights to companies and employees for analyses around work dynamics, collaboration, and development opportunities.
Three Categories of Teams and Technology Research
Next, we turn to the research base for teams and technology, within and outside of traditional I/O publications, centering on three topics: virtual teams, collaboration tool adoption, and new measurement possibilities for teams and groups resulting from new technologies.
Leading and Working in Virtual Teams
Virtual teamwork appears to be the most-researched facet of the team-technology intersection. In their review of 10 years of virtual teams research, Gilson, Maynard, Jones Young, Vartiainen, and Hakonen (2015) identify 10 themes, one of which is technology itself. They recognize technology’s role to facilitate communication and monitor performance of virtual teams but raise cautions that technology can interfere with high-functioning virtual teaming due to delays and a lack of clarity in intrateam communication. On a positive note, however, they review several studies finding that computer-mediated communication tools can reduce social loafing and between-member status differences, whereas group-oriented communication tools can strengthen social ties among team members. Notably for future researchers, Gilson et al. designate modern group communication tools (e.g., document co-creation, meeting tools, project management tools) as particularly underresearched components of the virtual teams landscape.
As a sign of work currently underway to represent the current state of I-O research on the topic, virtual teaming is also a topic for two SIOP 2018 sessions: Ng, DeChurch, and Contractor (2018) will be presenting the session Information Sharing in Online Teams: How Interventions Improve Information Processing, investigating whether “group information processing interventions […] improve information sharing during online team discussions.” Smoak, Murphy, Moye, and Deere (2018) will present on Working, Leading and Learning Virtually: Storytelling and Roundtable Discussion, and “will share stories of enabling virtual leaders, learners, and the broader workforce”.
Turning to the leader’s role in managing successful virtual teams, these teams require leaders who can adapt to new forms of collaboration and interaction that can no longer rely on direct interpersonal contact. This remains a challenging skill for many current leaders. A recent study (DDI, The Conference Board, EY, 2018) found that leaders were less confident in their ability to lead virtual teams than any of 15 other skills rated. Nor are Millennial-generation leaders confident in their ability to excel in this skill: they rated themselves significantly lower in leading virtual teams compared to Generation X and Baby Boomer leaders. As a result, it’s unlikely that leader proficiency levels will change merely by an infusion of younger employees into leader roles: dedicated development in virtual team leadership as a distinct leader skill for leaders at all levels and of all generations may be needed.
Adoption of Workplace Collaboration Tools
Though a less concentrated base of research compared to virtual teams, research into collaboration tool acceptance and employee use is arguably no less important for the organizations investing heavily by installing and encouraging adoption of these tools, and seeking resulting ROI. Three studies from the information technology discipline provide initial evidence-based guidance about techniques to boost collaboration tool engagement:
- Maruping and Magni (2015) found that empowered teams were more likely to have higher intentions and expectations to explore the use of team collaboration tools.
- Pillet and Carillo (2016) found habit-forming to play a moderating role between perceived ease of use and knowledge sharing via the tools.
- Bayerl, Lauche, and Axtell (2016) examined adoption processes for new team collaboration and video-conferencing software, identifying the roles of both attitude and rationale in securing sustained adoption within and across teams. They conclude by recommending that “organizations need to acquire a new mindset, which treats technology changes in collectives not as a one-time deployment, but as a process that requires management on a continuous basis” (p. 782).
These research streams are critical to counteract the headwinds that collaborative tools often face. Successful implementation and positive returns on investment will only come after overcoming passive or even active resistance by team members overwhelmed by the demands of an “always on” communication cadence (Mankins, 2017).
Enabling New Forms of Team Measurement, Gathering Richer Team Data
Technology advances have also propelled the nature of teams research itself by dramatically expanding the volume and variety of data that can be gathered about team interactions and group dynamics (Carter, Asencio, Wax, DeChurch, & Contractor, 2015). These technologies include wearable sociometric badges that track proximity, ambient sound, and other parameters that can be used to code and classify interactions among colocated coworkers. Although these devices are not without their measurement perils (see Chaffin et al., 2017), when rigorously implemented, they can unlock a rich and incremental level of data about team interactions. The work of Kozlowski and colleagues (e.g., Kozlowski, 2015; Kozlowski, Chao, Chang, & Fernandez, 2015) – targeting one of the highest-stakes teams soon to be in existence, the astronauts traveling and working together on missions to Mars – is a model such project.
Summarizing and Looking Ahead
With the continued rise of virtual work and further investments into workplace flexibility for employees to have options for their work arrangements, we anticipate continued advancement in many types of technologies to support team dynamics. By providing an environment that works for everyone, this will result in companies continuing to offer multiple locations where employees can work together, and/or a mix of remote working days as needed from anywhere in the world.
As we watch this space, we’re confident that we will see future acquisitions and merger of these technological features and tools which will result in limited products that do end to end planning, storage, analysis, sharing, and tracking.
Additionally, with the younger generation entering into work with new ways to work, investments will continue to be made around the development and integration of technologies into K-12 programs (Boorstin, 2017). We are already seeing schools and programs that are training youth through these tools so they can experience team dynamics.
Although these are just a few snapshots on what is being used within organizations today, what is coming out from our own I-O research, and what we might see in the future, we are more excited to see the way these data sets and technologies will continue to push the boundaries in the team and technology space.
Do you have other technology examples you’d add to the list above or ones that you’ve found to be extremely effective in your own team work? Please contact us on LinkedIn (Tiffany Poeppelman & Evan Sinar) or Twitter (@TRPoeppelman, & @EvanSinar).
Ideas for future Modern App TIP columns? We are always open to ideas on what you’d like to see covered.
Last, see below for the full set and topics of our Modern App columns since January 2017:
- 2017 Technology Trends: Are I-O Psychologists Prepared? January 2017
- #SIOP17 Program Preview: Technology Roundup for Orlando April 2017
- #SIOP17 Review: Technology Takeaways From Orlando July 2017
- Modern App: Don't Believe (Most of) The Technology Hype October 2017
Bayerl, P. S., Lauche, K. and Axtell, C. (2016) Revisiting group-based technology adoption as a dynamic process: the role of changing attitude-rationale configurations. MIS Quarterly: Management Information Systems, 40(3). 775-784.
Bersin, J. (2016). New research shows why focus on teams, not just leaders, is key to business performance. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2016/03/03/why-a-focus-on-teams-not-just-leaders-is-the-secret-to-business-performance/#3fe6ca724d5a
Boorstin, J. (2017). A lesson plan from tech giants on how to transform education. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/28/microsoft-google-and-facebook-see-billions-in-future-of-education.html
Carter, D. R., Asencio, R., Wax, A., DeChurch, L. A., & Contractor, N. S. (2015). Little teams, big data: Big data provides new opportunities for teams theory. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8(4), 550-555.
Chaffin, D., Heidl, R., Hollenbeck, J. R., Howe, M., Yu, A., Voorhees, C., & Calantone, R. (2017). The promise and perils of wearable sensors in organizational research. Organizational Research Methods, 20(1), 3-31.
DDI, The Conference Board, & EY. (2018). Global Leadership Forecast 2018: 25 research insights to fuel your people strategy. Pittsburgh, PA: DDI. Retrieved from https://www.ddiworld.com/glf2018.
Gilson, L. L., Maynard, M. T., Jones Young, N. C., Vartiainen, M., & Hakonen, M. (2015). Virtual teams research: 10 years, 10 themes, and 10 opportunities. Journal of Management, 41(5), 1313-1337.
Haak, T. (2017). 10 HR trends for 2017. Retrieved from https://hrtrendinstitute.com/2016/11/23/hr_trends_2017/.
Kozlowski, S. W. (2015). Advancing research on team process dynamics: Theoretical, methodological, and measurement considerations. Organizational Psychology Review, 5(4), 270-299.
Kozlowski, S. W., Chao, G. T., Chang, C. H., & Fernandez, R. (2015). Team dynamics: Using “big data” to advance the science of team effectiveness. Big data at work: The data science revolution and organizational psychology, 273-309.
Mankins, M. (2017). Collaboration overload is a symptom of a deeper organizational problem. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/03/collaboration-overload-is-a-symptom-of-a-deeper-organizational-problem
Maruping, L. M., & Magni, M. (2015). Motivating employees to explore collaboration technology in team contexts. MIS Quarterly, 39(1), 1-16.
Mathieu, J. E., Hollenbeck, J. R., van Knippenberg, D., & Ilgen, D. R. (2017). A century of work teams in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(3), 452-467. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000128
Ng, J., DeChurch, L. A., & Contractor, N. (2018, April). Information sharing in online teams: How interventions improve information processing. Poster presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference, Chicago, IL.
Pillet, J. C., & Carillo, K. D. A. (2016). Email-free collaboration: An exploratory study on the formation of new work habits among knowledge workers. International Journal of Information Management, 36(1), 113-125.
Smoak, V. J., Murphy, H., Moye, M. J., & Strange, J. M. (2018, April). Working, leading and learning virtually: Storytelling and roundtable discussion. Alternative session type presented at the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology conference, Chicago, IL.